‘Sabata’, Directed by Frank Kramer (Gianfranco Parolini) 1969. 106 minutes. Widescreen (2.35: 1 anamorphic). Label: Explosive Media, Germany. Format: All regions Blu-ray and PAL region 2 DVDs.
When he hears that $100,000 worth of US Army funds have been snatched from the bank at Daugherty by persons unknown, an enterprising drifter called Sabata (Lee Van Cleef) quickly tracks the culprits, shoots them down and returns the money to its rightful owners. Sabata soon deduces that the bank raid was set up by three crooked town elders - Stengel (Franco Ressel), Ferguson (Anthony Gradwell) and Judge O'Hara (Gianni Rizzo) - and he sets about blackmailing the trio. Aided by two local misfits, the scruffy Carrincha (Pedro Sanchez) and the acrobatic Alley Cat (Nick Jordan), Sabata acts to put the dishonest trio under increasing pressure while simultaneously fighting off a series of assassins that they send after him. Sabata also has to second-guess the intentions of an old acquaintance, the duplicitous Banjo (William Berger), who is quietly observing events as they unfold from the sidelines.
‘Sabata’ may be a somewhat jokey affair but the film boasts a number of noteworthy attributes. First and foremost, it looks like absolutely no expense was spared when the film was being assembled. It’s a really good-looking show thanks to Sergio Leone collaborator Carlo Simi's outstanding art direction and cinematographer Sandro Mancori's talent for expertly framing shots and setting up stylish and fluid camera movements. The film also features a superb soundtrack score that is chockfull of great cues. The composer Marcello Giombini's work here utilizes Ennio Morricone-esque Mexican trumpets and jangly guitar sounds whilst also throwing all kinds of other baroque bits of musical business into the mix. ‘Sabata’ also features two of the genre's biggest and best-loved stars, Lee Van Cleef and William Berger, along with a host of popular supporting actors in the form of Franco Ressel, Gianni Rizzo, Linda Veras and Spartaco Conversi.
Frank Kramer’s critics might be right when they argue that the larger narrative arcs of most of his Westerns are merely flimsy excuses for a succession of action set pieces. But it's precisely these always well-staged action set pieces that make Kramer's Westerns so enjoyable: the set pieces tend to be novel and fascinatingly multilayered affairs that can be likened to the skin of an onion or a set of Russian nesting dolls. Nothing is ever what it initially seems to be in Kramer's films: new and unexpected layers of understanding about a particular object, weapon or relationship are constantly being revealed which ultimately results in surprising narrative developments arising. Campy spy show-like gadgets, flippantly two-dimensional character types, anti-illusionist stunts, outrageous surprises and comic strip-like plotting litter Kramer's stylishly shot Italian Westerns. ‘Sabata’ possesses all of these elements and the film remains a thoroughly enjoyable tongue-in-cheek romp that is highly regarded by fans of the genre.
Explosive Media's All Region Blu-ray of ‘Sabata’ boasts pin-sharp, detailed and amazingly colorful picture quality. The Blu-ray presentation's sound quality (I used the English dub but German and Italian dubs, supported by English language subtitles, are also available) is excellent too.
Extras: The main feature is also repeated on a PAL Region 2 DVD. A second PAL Region 2 DVD houses the set's extra features. Chief amongst these is a 43 minute featurette that boasts an interview with Frank Kramer/Gianfranco Parolini that is supported by additional comments from the film historian Fabio Melelli. Also included amongst the extra features are an image gallery, trailers for almost all of Lee Van Cleef's Euro Westerns, an assortment of other Western trailers and an illustrated booklet (German text only).
© 2014 copyright Lee Broughton.
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